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Wednesday, March 24,2010

'Romeo & Juliette' and Miami Beach?

Michigan State University promises "fun and funky" twist on Shakespearean opera

by Brandon Kirby

It’s
Shakespeare meets “Miami Vice” as the Michigan State University Opera Theatre
takes on Charles Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette.”


The
French-language adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy has been transferred to
1980s Miami Beach.


“Our
production is fun and funky,” said stage director and producer Melanie Helton,
an associate professor of voice in the MSU College of Music.


“The
kind of violence, two warring families, it echoed the drug wars of the 1980s
with rich, upper-class people being violent with each other,” she said. “I
thought the period would really work.”


It
also helped that Helton already had costumes from the 1980s. She gathered more
wardrobe needs from eBay and vintage shops.


“[The
opera] is authentically costumed, and in an era of budget cuts it always helps
to save a bit of money,” she said.


English
subtitles will be projected above the stage for the audience to follow along in
the dialogue.


“It’s
a perfect example of French grand opera,” Helton said. “We chose to sing it in French
because pieces in their original language sound as they should, and (often)
they don’t sound so great in English.”


Singing
in French also benefitted the students involved in the production. During the
second semester of their sophomore year, every vocal student learns French
diction. Sophomore Jonathan Riesen, who plays Romeo in the Saturday cast, began
taking French diction this semester while rehearsing for the role at the same
time.


“We
only have one graduate student, as almost all are undergraduates,” Helton said.
“It’s one of the things we’re so proud of. We get them started early, and they
approach everything with such joy and determination. We’ve found in our past
couple years that the more challenge we give them, the better they’re graduating.”


“Romeo
et Juliette”


Michigan State University Concert Auditorium

8 p.m. Friday. March 26 and Saturday, March 27; 3 p.m. Sunday, March 28

$20 general admission, $18 for seniors, $10 for students

(517) 432-2000

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